Lloyds nears capital target with U.S. mortgage book sale


State-backed British bank Lloyds sold a book of U.S. mortgage-backed securities for 3.3 billion pounds ($5 billion), boosting its capital by 1.4 billion pounds and taking it close to a target set by the financial regulator.

Lloyds is also looking to sell a $500 million portfolio of shipping loans to shrink its exposure to the troubled maritime industry, as it gets rid of unwanted assets, trade finance sources told Reuters.

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Shipping loans are proving the most difficult assets for many banks to sell after a five year industry slump, and Lloyds still has about 7 billion pounds of loans to the sector.

"Lloyds has been trying to sell off another portion of their (shipping) loan book and they have been trying to do it below the parapet using specialists," one industry source said. "They are taking a piecemeal approach to selling their overall loan book."

In October sources told Reuters Lloyds took a near-50 percent loss on a $750 million portfolio of shipping loans sold to U.S. private equity firm Oaktree Capital.

Shipping companies ordered large numbers of new vessels between 2007 and 2009, when freight rates hit record highs, but the extra capacity arrived just as Europe's recession was deepening and other economies were slowing.

Lloyds declined to comment on its shipping portfolio.

Since a 2008 bailout by the British government, which now owns 39 percent of Lloyds, the bank has been under pressure from lawmakers and regulators to make lending to British households and businesses a priority.

Lloyds said on Friday it would make a pre-tax gain of about 540 million pounds from the sale of a portfolio of U.S. residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) to a number of buyers, including Goldman Sachs .

The deal will increase its core capital ratio by 47 basis points, based on Basel III rules being implemented, as the sale is at a premium to the value at which Lloyds holds the loans after previously taking losses on them.

The Lloyds TSB pension fund also sold its share of the RMBS portfolio, making a gain of 360 million pounds to reduce the deficit in the scheme.

The loans were sold at about a 20 percent discount to the nominal value of the portfolio, a person familiar with the matter said. Reports had said the RMBS portfolio up for sale had a nominal value of more than $8 billion.

The sale comes as a recovery strengthens in the U.S. housing market, with prices posting their largest gain in March since the peak of a housing boom in 2006.

Goldman Sachs bought 170 million pounds worth of the RMBS for around 200 million pounds in cash, Lloyds said.

Lloyds has been selling businesses that are not part of its core activities, while boosting its capital in preparation for an eventual sale of the UK government's stake.

The sale of shares in UK wealth manager St.James's Place last week boosted its capital by 500 million pounds and the bank has also sold its Spanish retail banking operations and its international private banking arm.

Britain's financial regulator has told Lloyds and rival Royal Bank of Scotland to shore up their capital, allowing them to do so by selling assets and continuing to shrink their bloated balance sheets.

Lloyds' recent deals should lift its core capital ratio to 8.7 percent, from 8.1 percent at the end of March and near to its target of 9 percent by the end of this year.

It aims to cut its "non-core" loan book to under 70 billion pounds by the end of 2014, from 92 billion at the end of March and 141 billion at the end of 2011.

Lloyds shares closed up 0.5 percent at 62.11 pence.

($1 = 0.6572 British pounds)

(Additional reporting by Steve Slater; Editing by Sinead Cruise and Helen Massy-Beresford)